What does a journalist look like? I have been asking myself this question ever since I sat on one of the ripped up seats in the small local radio station that houses Generation Justice (then known as Youth Radio) and spoke into the big unfamiliar microphone in front of me, four years ago. Whether it’s orally, through the Internet or the disappearing newspaper, I have always pondered what it takes to be a journalist and whether or not I would ever be able to consider myself one. I had an idea of all of this because of where I grew up: a household where the radio – from the time I woke up to the time I fell asleep – blasted the public radio station, the same one from which I would later receive an email, prompting me to come and interview for the Youth Radio Project.
The great thing about this station is that, although it is the only one I heard for the first twelve years of my life, I heard millions of voices. My days would start with Amy Goodman’s voice spilling the most important headlines of the mornings, end with an energetic volunteer announcing the next song of their set of eclectic music, and in between would be voices from celebrated men and women, local organizers and entertainers, activists, politicians, teenagers – even children!
Of course, I’ve always understood the value of a fair journalism source and unbiased media, but the National Conference for Media Reform in April 2013 opened my eyes to the importance of voices. I realized how brainwashed I had been by my own society when I saw the panel named, “Independent Journalism on War, Conflict, and Human Rights.” I went because I recognized Amy Goodman’s name as one of the speakers, but when I got there I was astounded by the diversity on the stage. Jeff Cohen, the founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and the founder of the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) facilitated a panel with Marjorie Cohn, Amy Goodman, Sonali Kolhatkar, and Norman Solomon. I saw five people in front of me, three of whom were women and even a woman of color. I was upset by the fact that I was so surprised to see women and people of color representing independent journalism when I rarely see these people on TV or hear their voices on the radio.
A few hours later, I attended a workshop with all queer women of color as panelists, all representing highly-respected media and news sources. I realized that although I had listened to public radio my whole life, if I ever sat down to watch TV, read magazines or online internet sources, or deviated from the KUNM dial number, I would most likely be listening to a white man’s voice, and almost none of the people in front of me would ever be on mainstream America’s radar. Even the most progressive media outlets like John Stewart’s satirical news source The Daily Show and Glenn Greenwald’s column in the Huffington Post are from a white man’s perspective.
What is missing is perspective, and with perspective comes freedom. As a young woman of color, I was lucky to be chosen to attend the conference and see with my own eyes people who look like me speaking about important issues, when normally, the only time teenagers of color see themselves in the media or in the news is on 16 and Pregnant or when talking about gang violence. This conference changed my perspective on what a media maker or journalist can look like, and made me realize that I too can be a journalist. It also prompted me to think about the kind of news outlet I would ever want to work for, and I found my answer: any organization or community that celebrated voices of marginalized people as opposed to exploiting them. Luckily, I have spent the past four years in a project that does exactly that: Generation Justice has been able to create true equity where multi-million dollar organizations have not, and has been able to provide a place where I feel appreciated, safe, and where I can flourish.